Monday, 18 January 2021

Memories of 1976?

Over the last couple of months I've been labouring over a new literary project with the working title Memories of 1976.

As it implies on the tin, the idea has been to solicit memories via Facebook nostalgia groups from people of a certain age who have some kind of affinity to 1976 - the year of that never-ending summer when the old met the new in music and in popular culture, while an unstable world seemed to totter on the brink of economic meltdown tinged with a worrying if still remote prospect of nuclear conflagration.

If the intention was to use content from others as an easy means of filling pages for my own work then things haven't quite gone to plan. Expecting maybe two to three dozen responses, instead I received nearly 1600, which now need to be ploughed through and placed into some kind of logical context which leaves nothing out and yet somehow retains its freshness through to the final page. Honour obliges me to include every sensible contribution, as I promised all those who engaged with the project that I would. And so what began as an idea for an easy win for a new booklet has morphed into something which threatens to resemble a sequel to War And Peace.

No matter, it is what it is. I will announce the new masterpiece to an eagerly awaiting world just as soon as it is available. To be truthful I'm rather looking forward to it as I'm confident it will be a work worthy of a place in the burgeoning archives of retro, as well as a useful reminder that things don't always go to plan.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

The Man Who Fell to Earth



Think of this iconic 1976 sci-fi movie and the mind becomes inexorably fixed upon a vision of the gaunt, pallid figure with wavy red locks that was David Bowie playing Thomas Jerome Newton, the visitor from another planet come to Earth to find water with which to sate the desperate thirsts of his drought-stricken people.

And yet Nicolas Roeg's surreal cult movie, based on Walter Tevis' 1963 novel of the same name, saw Bowie in the first lead acting role of his already colourful career. Sure he had studied mime under the expert tutelage of Lindsey Kemp, an art which he had incorporated with dazzling effect into his Ziggy Stardust stage routine, and had secured a blink-and-you'll-miss-it bit-part role in the late sixties comedy romp The Virgin Soldiers, but this was a big leap even for a man of Bowie's many talents.

Nevertheless, when the accolades were handed out following the movie's initially modest success it was Bowie who scooped the Saturn Award for Best Actor.

LOVE INTEREST

Newton, an alien in more or less human form, arrives on his mission equipped with an advanced knowledge of technology, which he was able to put to good effect on Earth by patenting inventions and making himself wealthy in the process. But he needs his wealth to enable him to build a space vehicle with which to transport water back to his people.

Whilst here amongst our people, however, he not unreasonably finds himself to drawn to earthly pursuits, not least a love interest called Mary-Lou, played by Candy Clark. He also develops rather too keen an enthusiasm for alcohol, upon which he eventually becomes dependent.

Nevertheless he does actually manage to construct his space craft, only to be detained shortly before his planned departure after being betrayed by one he thought he could trust. And so the story descends into anti-climax, with the sad visitor increasingly resigned to the fact that he will never return, and settling in with some difficulty to life on Earth, minus his girl and much of his faculties.

ENDURING SUCCESS

Bowie went on to enjoy a successful acting career in film and on stage alongside his immense musical achievements. In spite of the unspectacular reception that The Man Who Fell To Earth received in 1976, it achieved enduring success as a cult movie through later years and is today one of Roeg’s most celebrated works.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Read a Free Sample of The Best Year Of Our Lives

It is now possible to read a free sample of The Best Year Of Our Lives before ordering. Please just click below:

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Your Memories of 1976 Wanted

I am presently researching for a new booklet featuring memories and experiences of the wonderful year that was 1976 from those who were there, and I am hoping that as a visitor to this blog you may wish to help by lending me some of your own?

What were you doing during that long hot summer? What memories does that year have for you in particular? The music? The drought and the ladybirds? A memorable holiday perhaps? Some special event in your life? Recollections from your youth?

If you'd like to contribute a few lines for the booklet, a few keepsakes, please just add them under Comments at the foot of this post or send me a PM. I'll need the name you'd like to be identified by (it can be initials, first name, or whatever you like) and a location - nothing too detailed or which gives too much information please.

Typos and bad grammar will be corrected, profanities will be deleted (as will anything which identifies anyone), but beyond that the floor is yours. Remember, it's about 1976 so please try to focus on that year if you can.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

The Thin White Duke - Ambassador of a Desolate Future?



The Thin White Duke was a character created, and lived, by David Bowie in the mid-1970s. Following his lead role in the cult sci-fi movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie adapted the look of his part Thomas Jerome Newton and transformed him into the sinister Duke - a pale, emotionless, Teutonic aristocrat sporting swept-back orange hair and a monochromatic cabaret-style outfit. In January 1976 his album Station to Station was released, and the interest of the music and other media was aroused by means of an original if not entirely well-advised series of statements on matters of national and international affairs.

In my novel The Best Year Of Our Lives the two main characters, Paul Adams and Jim Gray, are big Bowie fans and they reflect upon this drastic change in his stage persona, from the days of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane with which they were comfortable and familiar. The thought is not lost on them that the coldness of the Duke may be a baleful harbinger of times ahead.

1976: The Return Of The Thin White Duke is a 32-page booklet in which I have tried to make sense of the Duke, noting Bowie's prolific drug use during the period and considering the role the character played in the artist's transition between a life in Los Angeles that he'd fallen out of love with and what would be perhaps his most creative period, residing in West Berlin and creating his celebrated trilogy with essential input from Iggy Pop, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno.

The booklet is available from Amazon in paperback (£2.99) or ebook format (£0.99).

Friday, 28 August 2020

Brotherhood of Man Win 1976 Eurovision Song Contest



Few institutions have aroused fascination and mockery in such equal measure as the Eurovision Song Contest. Staged by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) since 1956, it is easily the longest-running televised competitive annual musical event. Each year most of the nations of Europe, plus one or two others besides, vie for the prize of the best newly-composed song.

Although it is performed before a huge international televised audience, quite often the acts selected to take part are relatively new to the scene and use the contest as a springboard to launching a successful chart career. The most obvious example of this was ABBA, who took the competition by storm in 1974 when representing Sweden and went on to become one of the biggest-selling musical acts of all time. Others have somehow managed to fade into obscurity by the end of the evening.

Sometimes though more established artists are chosen to represent their countries (or other countries).

The UK slot has been filled more than once by Cliff Richard, as well as by such notables as Olivia Newton-John, Lulu and Engelbert Humperdinck, whilst Canadian diva Celine Dion has performed for Switzerland and sultry Spanish duo Baccara have sung for Luxembourg.

A YEAR TO REMEMBER

In spite of its dominance of the European pop scene, prior to 1976 the United Kingdom did not have a huge record of success in the competition, having been the outright winner only once - in 1967 with Sandie Shaw's Puppet on a String - although Lulu had shared the honours in a four-way tie two years later. But 1976 was a year to remember in terms of British sporting and performing excellence, and we entered the contest with high expectations.

Brotherhood of Man were a mixed, four-piece, middle-of-the-road outfit who had already enjoyed worldwide chart success with their 1973 hit United We Stand. But a relatively barren period ensued and they decided to enter A Song For Europe, the competition through with the UK selected its entrant for Eurovision, and in February 1976 the group was announced the winner with its catchy composition Save Your Kisses for Me.

A CUTE FINAL TWIST

On the big night in The Hague, Netherlands, Brotherhood of Man were the first act. The costumes worn were an interesting but successful combo - the two male singers wearing black and white suits and the two girls red and white jumpsuits along with matching berets. They all four stood in a row, Osmonds-style, singing whilst moving their arms and legs in a quaintly choreographed style. The song featured a man with conflicted emotions leaving his loved one in the morning as he went off to work. At the end of the song came a cute final twist in which the person he was singing to was in fact his three-year old child, rather than his partner as the listener had hitherto been given to presume.

Voting at the Eurovision Song Contest is by selected judges from competitor countries, and the event is routinely criticised for what would often appear to be both tactical and political voting. Nevertheless, support for the group was solid and Brotherhood of Man ended up the well-deserved winners, some seventeen points ahead of the French entry which took second place. Save Your Kisses for Me held the Number One spot in the UK singles' charts and achieved similar success around Europe, eventually going platinum.

INTERNATIONAL CONTROVERSY

Eurovision has not always had the best press, and has often been embroiled in international and political controversy. Musically it most certainly isn't to everyone's tastes. But in a year which saw skater John Curry take gold at the Winter Olympics and James Hunt win the Formula One World Championship, Brotherhood of Man did the prestige of the UK another huge service at a time when much social hardship and economic turmoil was being endured.

The group went on to enjoy a successful chart career, with a number of big hits including Angelo and Figaro. The same group, with the same line-up, is still performing and touring today.